As director of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace, Helen Conway is leading the charge to address gender bias in the workplace.

She talks to Rattler about her efforts to ensure that equality becomes a reality.

Why did you take on your current role as director of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace?

In my former life I was a corporate executive and director and worked across various industries, and during that time I had an ongoing interest in equal opportunities for women.

I accepted the role at EOWA because I am committed to driving change in the gender space. I am deeply concerned by the fact that despite improvements in the conditions and prospects of working women over the last couple of decades, gender inequality remains prevalent in Australian workplaces. Women, for example, continue to earn less than men and are significantly under-represented in leadership positions.

What do you hope to achieve?

I want to drive a shift in workplace culture to a point where gender equality is a reality: where caring and family responsibilities pose no barrier to career progression, where flexible work practices are available to men as well as women— and taken up by them. I want to see workplaces where employees are engaged and promoted purely on the basis of merit, and all workers receive equal pay for work of equal or comparable value.

The education and care sector is 98 per cent women, what changes would you like to see in a sector such as ours?

The education and care sector is an area where the skills and expertise of its workers can be undervalued, often because of a traditional view that they are performing ‘women’s work’. We need to examine whether the remuneration and working conditions within this sector reflect the workloads, responsibilities and challenges shouldered by its employees.

They must be remunerated fairly.

You’ve noted our slow progress to gender parity. Why is pay equity so important?

Regrettably, at 17.4 per cent, the current gender pay gap is about the same as it has been for a couple of decades and this has serious financial implications for women, most particularly when it comes to their retirement savings. Sadly, women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be living in poverty in their old age than men.

Why does the gender pay gap still exist—why hasn’t it changed in 25 years?

Progress has been hindered by the concentration of women and men in different occupations, industries, and job levels. Many jobs women do are undervalued. Also, women continue to shoulder the majority of caring work and are under-represented in management and leadership positions where higher salaries are paid.

What’s stopping us from exacting change? Where do we need to start?

Change can only occur when leadership is firmly committed to gender diversity. As with any business initiative, accountability is also an essential part of making change happen. This means establishing clear action plans, measuring and transparently reporting on outcomes, and holding managers to account for achieving results.

Employers can begin by conducting an analysis of what barriers to gender equality may exist within their organisation and put in place action plans to address the issues they identify. For example, they can do a pay analysis to determine if they have a gender pay gap. They can ask themselves whether working flexibly in their organisation limits a person’s career. Tools to guide companies through these processes are available on EOWA’s website.

What is your vision for the future?

My vision is for all Australians to be able to reach their full potential in the workplace, regardless of gender.

And what would this future mean for the childcare industry?

That the childcare industry would become a more attractive career prospect for both women and men.

What keeps you awake at night?

Not a lot these days. Working hard to improve gender equality in the workplace generally leads to a good night’s sleep! There is still a lot to do.

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